Text: Jens Persson, April 2019
Inclusivity has become a buzzword in the world of design of
late. Major companies are racing to label their businesses
inclusive. It's "good branding", as they say. But what does
inclusive design really mean? And is everyone included? André
Kennedy, N, believes that inclusive design still suffers from a
major blind spot. Namely, people with cognitive impairments. For
example, people with autism, the elderly or children. To initiate
change, André developed an inclusive financial system, inspired by
his autistic brother Julian.
Since World War 2, and the return of soldiers suffering from
severe physical impairments, inclusive design has been about the
physical aspects of inclusivity. Designers developing new products
or services have focused solely on the material side of things, in
order to increase accessibility in society. That's all fine and
However, André Kennedy argues that we also must recognize that
there are large groups in society who have been overlooked when we
talk about inclusive design.
"Quite simply, as designers we have failed to consider that
cognitive abilities also fit into this broader definition of
accessibility. This lack of recognition of the range of cognitive
abilities present in our society is evident across industries -
whether it be online services for the elderly, or access to medical
records for children diagnosed with a disease."
Decoding the financial language of banks
On the positive side, this realization opens up a whole new
range of potential products for designers to develop. Last year,
André Kennedy seized the opportunity himself and began developing
his MFA graduation project, Olive. The idea was born out of seeing
his autistic younger brother Julian struggle to come to terms with
the financial language and products offered by banks today.
"Less than 50% of adults living with autism in the UK have any
control at all over how their money is managed. Banks have failed
to offer these groups any form of inclusive financial products,
forcing their families and carers to strip them of much of their
André performed extensive user
research before arriving upon the final functions and visuals
displayed on the Olive platform.
Olive, which won the award for most empowering product at the Interaction Awards in Seattle in February,
is aimed at meeting the specific and individual needs of someone
like Julian. People with neurodevelopmental nisorders (NDD) tend to
communicate their feelings and thoughts in different ways to
neurotypical people. For example, autistic people will often have
trouble understanding numbers and abstract concepts such as value.
So, rather than fixating on arbitrary numbers, Olive is a platform
that focuses on helping people living with NDDs voice their
individual needs and goals, aiming to give context to every
financial decision made.
The Olive product family
With Olive, money is presented in a visual medium. Actually,
it's three mediums, three products. It's the portal, the budget
planner and the app. The portal budgets the monthly income. It's a
mode for setting up automated payments and categorize money into
different spending pools. The planner allows family and carers to
set up a detailed weekly plan that the person with NDD can interact
with throughout the week. And finally, the app, which handles the
"The flexibility of Olive enables carers to place rules - limits
and permissions - over certain categories of money; groceries and
rent for example. In this way, Olive can adapt to the individual
decision-making abilities of the user."
By making the different steps of economic decision-making more
tangible, relating to both planning and outcomes, Olive creates the
basis for a financial language better suited to people with
NDD. Also, for carers and families supporting and managing the
money, Olive provides a channel through which they can gauge the
needs and goals of people with NDD, ensuring their voice is
Inclusive design requires inclusive methods
During the development of Olive, André stayed true to the
process by utilizing exhaustive inclusive design methodologies in
order to gain a deeper perspective from the users. While
challenging, the experience was rewarding in many ways.
"Many of these groups struggle to express how they feel. Finding
suitable testing and interviewing methods proved to be a monotonous
process. In the end, I found that the most effective ways of
working with these groups was through story-telling with Lego and
long-term prototyping. Lego proved to be an amazing way of
exploring their lives of today, and the problems they face. Long
term prototyping, on the other hand, allowed me to measure how
their behaviour changed over time, and thus gauge whether an idea
was right or not."
André's brother Julian demoing the budget
planner during the development of Olive.
André Kennedy is now working towards getting Olive to reach a
"The impact that Olive has had already is amazing, really. The
prototype of the budget planner is still used to this day used by
the family that was testing it. On the market side, Olive has been
working with some major banks who are interested in transforming
their products, and soon, I'll be releasing a toolkit to help
support banks in this process."